Taking opera out of the halls and to the masses

When you've performed opera down old mineshafts and in caves deep underground, doing Mozart in an old rectory is going to seem passé.

Friday, 22nd June 2018, 6:19 pm
Updated Friday, 22nd June 2018, 6:23 pm
Pop-Up Opera. Picture by Robert Workman

Since forming the Pop-up Opera company in 2011, classically-trained singer Clementine Lovell has been taking the artform to the masses '“  bringing it out of the grand halls where it is typically found and into quirky venues across the land.

This summer they are touring a double-bill of one-act comedies by Mozart, Der Schauspieldirektor and Bastien und Bastienne.

Clementine explains how the company came to be: '˜I trained as an opera singer before setting up the company, and the reaction I would often get from friends would be like, 'Well, it's not really my thing', so I would ask them if they'd ever been, and they'd say, 'well, no, but'¦'

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'˜There all of these outdated stereotypes around opera, but often actually it's the setting or the ticket prices, or the attitudes around opera that's the problem. Also after music college I lived in Italy for a while and I saw how everybody goes to the opera '“ it's very much a thing for all ages and classes and part of their culture that it's not here.  

'˜It got me thinking, why isn't that the case here? And how can we change that? That sparked the idea plus also doing some opera scenes in my uncle's cider barn in Herefordshire to an audience of folk and blues-goers who didn't really have experience of opera and they loved it.

'˜Being in an environment where they were relaxed and they had a glass of cider, it got me thinking about how the setting can have a bearing on people's enjoyment. If you can put it in less formal settings, people might be more open to it. We often have people come along who haven't been to an opera before and go away saying they've changed their mind about it.'

And Clementine believes passionately that it is not elitist.

'˜Opera includes at the heart of it feelings we can all relate to. It's an incredible artform because it's simultaneously very refined, but also extremely raw '“ these performers master techniques that allow them to penetrate to the very essence of feeling and express this true sound which can be very moving.

'˜We try to make the storytelling very strong and engaging too '“ it's about bringing out the physicality of the piece. When we're rehearsing it's quite a collaborative process, the singers feel they have ownership over it, so then they feel confident to adapt it into all these different spaces we go into, because we only get into these spaces on the day, and they can obviously vary quite a lot.

'˜You don't need fancy costumes or fancy sets to make opera relevant or enjoyable. The venue itself becomes our set and we incorporate that. '˜And we get a real range of people in our audience, from people who'd go to Glyndebourne or the Royal Opera House, to people who've never been to the opera before.'

Language is often seen as another stumbling block. Pop-Up Opera uses silent film-style captioning at its shows.

'˜It's a very special experience to hear the opera in its original language, and I believe we can still make that accessible. We developed a signature style of captioning, instead or having the rolling surtitles, where you find yourself constantly looking at a screen. We didn't want that.

'˜These are more sporadic than a surtitle. Sometimes they're adding a commentary, sometimes it's a translation, sometimes it's a modern equivalent of what's going on, so we can add humour in there.

'˜The idea is that the audience don't have to rely only on the captions. The captions are keeping people abreast of what's going, but also the audience are getting a lot from just watching the performers, from their body language and their expressions so it's very clear what's going on, and they're seeing it quite close-up, it's not like in a big opera house.

'˜The music is also telling the story, so it's all of those things coming together.'

Clementine has taken a step back from performing these days to concentrate on the business side, but is still also the artistic director.

'˜I'm so passionate about what we're doing that I wanted to give it my all, so something had to give. What I really enjoy is making this happen and building the company is really exciting at the moment, we're going to new places, and I think we're starting to change people's minds and attitudes.'

With the audience up-close to the performers there is more emphasis on the acting side, and with the captions and the music, Clementine is confident they deliver an entertaining show. '˜It'll be like Glyndebourne, but on a much smaller budget. And much more fun.'

Cheriton Old Rectory, Alresford

June 22-23